In the Spring of 2014 Associate Professor Shelly Duff’s students in CSUS’ 4th year INTD 173 studio were introduced to the Solar Decathlon project. This studio has a history of engaging in sustainable design projects as well as collaborating with Construction Management students to provide students with a full view of their impending professional relationships and responsibilities. However, this was the first time that the University participated in the Solar Decathlon. The Solar Decathlon was selected for a semester project as it could familiarize students with new technologies available to achieve energy use reductions as well as allow them the challenge of working with specific programmatic criteria but without limiting design constraints. The criteria that they were given came in terms of the requirements for the competition; the home must be 600 to1000 SF with a maximum 18’-0” vertical dimension. The students instructed that their design must also be feasibly constructed in the current homebuilding climate. Therefore, it needed to be based on widely available materials and technologies and appeal to a large audience of home buyers. This approach was selected as California had recently passed a law that will require all new homes to be net-zero by 2020. We wished to show that this was a clearly achievable goal and to give students the tools and knowledge needed to attain it. Based on preliminary research conducted by Gareth Figges, professor of Construction Management, it was determined that in Sacramento the typical homebuyer of a small, net zero home would be a first time homebuyer between the ages of 25-44, single or married with up to 1 child. The site for the home was given as an existing urban neighborhood within Sacramento.
This project, although small and seemingly straightforward, allowed students to explore to a depth that otherwise would not be possible. They were asked to consider the historical implications of “home”, what our culture, from the wide contemporary society to the specific youth culture of urban Sacramento, values or requires in a domicile as well as how the physical architecture of the home impacts that relationship. In addition they were allowed to advance this project to a point typically unattainable in a semester long project. Students needed to not only develop the design concept of the home fully but to also to bring it to fruition in the form of drawing documents complete enough that their Construction Management teammates could create a realistic budget for the home. Collectively they were also asked to carefully study and understand the environmental impact of each of their choices. As well as to consider the delicate balance needed between efficiency and aesthetics.